Monday, May 5, 2014
Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) and Amy Ziettlow (Institute for American Values) recently published an article entitled, Digital Planning, 28 Prob. & Prop. 23 (May/June 2014). Provided below is the introduction:
In 2013, U.S. Trust commissioned a survey of over 700 high net worth individuals. Although three-quarters had a will, almost the same number did not have a comprehensive estate plan, and more than half had made no plans for their digital lives. 2013 U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth: Key Findings, www.ustrust.com/publish/content/application/pdf/GWMOL/UST-Key-Findings-Report-Insights-on-Wealth-and-Worth-2013.pdf. Yet high net worth individuals are the group most likely to use the Internet. Trend Data (Adults), Pew Internet, www.pewinternet.org/Static-Pages/Trend-Data-(Adults)/Whos-On-line.aspx. As we place increasing amounts of our lives on-line—from paperless banking statements to photos to medical records to customer databases—planning for our digital lives becomes correspondingly important. Moreover, some forms of digital property have economic value; consider the virtual sword for the on-line game that sold for $16,000 or the domain names that sell for millions of dollars. Or consider the fees that would accrue if your clients did not pay credit card bills accessible only on-line while they were incapacitated. Digital property (by which we mean Internet accounts and data stored on-line) also has personal, emotional, and social value: an on-line photo album can store years of treasured memories, a Facebook page can record an individual’s significant events and personal thoughts, and a computer may store the great American novel.
In this article, the authors discuss recent developments that affect how estate planners can advise their clients on the disposition of digital property, and how individuals, regardless of their net worth, can approach management of their digital assets. The authors first look at the risks of not managing assets, and then turn to (1) the Uniform Law Commission’s process of developing model legislation, (2) the need for digital estate planning to consider financial assets as well as issues relating to social and emotional issues, and (3) the benefits and drawbacks of the increasing number of companies offering planning programs.